Torcetti are essentially breadsticks (with a bit of butter added to it for its distinct flakiness), rolled in sugar, twisted into a drop shape, and baked. They are a specialty from Piedmont, in particular around the Biella Valley. Some versions skip the yeast and make them more like cookies, with bicarbonate of soda acting as the rising agent, these are like instant torcetti, as you don't need to wait for the dough to rise. But I like the traditional version using bread dough, and it's no extra work, you just need time for two risings. I'd suggest doing the second rise overnight—pop the bowl into the fridge and let the second rise happen while you're sleeping. The next morning, the buttery dough, thanks to the chill of the fridge, is also easier to handle.
You may like to use raw sugar instead of white sugar for rolling the dough in, for some extra crunch.
Also please note, since flour is such a variable thing, you may or may not need all the water listed here. You may also find you need to add flour to the dough—or you may not. It just depends on how the particular flour you are using absorbs liquids. But this is a forgiving mixture. I'd recommend if you need to correct the flour/water, to do it before the first rise. Later, with the butter, you may find it's only sticky because the butter is so soft, so a bit of chill in the fridge can help. When you roll the dough, you don't want it to be so dry that it doesn't pick up the sugar. If this happens, you can brush the dough strips with water. —Emiko
Place the yeast in a small bowl with about 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the water to dissolve (or soften it, if fresh).
In a large bowl, place the flour, along with 2 tablespoons of the sugar (reserve the rest on a plate for rolling the dough in later) and a pinch of salt. Add the yeast mixture and as much water as you need to bring the flour together to a soft but not sticky dough. Knead lightly for a few minutes then place the dough back in the bowl, cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place in the kitchen for 1 hour.
In the meantime, dice the butter and then beat with electric beaters or mixer until creamy, a few minutes.
Add the softened butter to the risen dough and knead or mix until well-incorporated. It may be sticky at this point, and if excessively sticky, you can add some extra flour until you have a soft and manageable dough. Place back in the bowl, cover it as before and let rise another 1-1 1/2 hours in a warm spot or until doubled. You can also leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight and finish the shaping in the morning (highly recommended).
Feel the dough. If it is very soft and sticky, you can place the dough in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes—this will help harden the butter which makes handling easier. If it's still sticky, add a little flour.
Place the sugar on a surface where you can roll pieces of dough—either on a large flat plate or directly on a clean chopping board or pastry board or countertop.
Heat oven to 390°F (200°C).
Roll out about half of the dough to begin with on a very lightly floured surface into a rectangular shape, ideally about 4 inches (10cm) tall and to a thickness of about 1/3-1/2 inch (1-1.25cm). With a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1/3 (1 cm) strips and roll each of these strips directly on the sugar. Try to stretch the dough out a little so you have long 'snakes' about double the length of the strips of dough you began with. They should be covered lightly and evenly in the sugar. Bring the ends together and pinch so you have a drop shape. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Continue with the rest of the dough.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool completely and store torcetti in a cookie tin or airtight container.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.